China has every right to punish citizens using the Internet to challenge Communist Party power and ethnic policies, a senior official said on Monday, pressing Beijing's counter-offensive against Google Inc.
The defence of China's curbs on the Internet came nearly two weeks after the world's biggest search engine provider said it wanted to stop censoring its Chinese Google.cn website and was alarmed by online hacking attacks from within China.
The dispute has stoked friction between Beijing and Washington, two global economic heavyweights already wrestling with tensions over trade, US weapons sales to Taiwan and human rights.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week urged China and other authoritarian governments to pull down Internet censorship, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing.
In the latest volley, a spokesperson for China's State Council Information Office said the country "bans using the Internet to subvert state power and wreck national unity, to incite ethnic hatred and division, to promote cults and to distribute content that is pornographic, salacious, violent or terrorist".
The comments from the unnamed spokesperson showed scant room for compromise with Google and Washington on censorship policy. They were issued on the central government's website (http://www.gov.cn).
"China has an ample legal basis for punishing such harmful content, and there is no room for doubting this. This is completely different from so-called restriction of Internet freedom," the spokesperson added.
The State Council Information Office is the cabinet arm of China's propaganda apparatus, which is steered by the Communist Party, and is one of several agencies that shape Internet policy.
The latest comments from China made no direct mention of Google or Clinton.
They appeared intended to shore up the government's case that its Internet controls are for it alone to decide, and that even expression of non-violent views online can amount to a crime in China.
China has prosecuted dissidents and advocates of self-rule in Tibet who have used the Internet to challenge Communist Party policies.
Late last year the country's most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was jailed for 11 years on charges of "inciting subversion", largely through several essays he published on overseas Internet sites.
In recent days, Beijing has raised the pitch of its criticism of US pressure over the Internet.
On Sunday, the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, accused the United States of exploiting social media, such as Twitter and Youtube to foment unrest in Iran.
China has blocked Youtube since March, the anniversary of uprisings in Tibet, and Twitter since June 2009, just before the 20th anniversary of a crackdown on protestors in and near Tiananmen Square. Facebook has been down since early July.
China also uses a "Great Firewall" of content filtering to deter citizens from viewing banned content on overseas sites.